Kathie Lee Gifford was showered with love during her final day at the Today show.
The longtime anchor delivered her final broadcast as the host of the show’s popular fourth hour on Friday. She bid farewell to her co-host and close friend Hoda Kotb and the rest of the NBC crew, wrapping up her 11 years with the network.
In addition to surprise appearances from John Cena, Dean Cain, Ryan Eggold and her good friend Barry Manilow, who performed a beautiful rendition of “Can’t Smile Without You,” Gifford also received a special shout-out from her former Live! co-host Regis Philbin.
“We couldn’t have a goodbye celebration without hearing from a very special person, so let’s take a look,” said Kotb, 54, introducing a sweet video message from Philbin, 87.
“Kathie Lee, you want to know the best part of my life, my TV life, was in the 15 years I spent with you, from 1985 to 2000,” he said. “We stayed friends throughout the entire game and it was a lot of fun.”
“Where you are right now, I know you’re going to be moving on to a great new career, making movies. And since I’ve seen the first one, I know you’re going to be a great success — I really mean it,” he continued. “I want you to know how I will always remember the great times that we had working together and how you are as a person: just great.”
Gifford, 65, was touched.
“He called me yesterday,” she revealed. “He and [his wife] Joy called me yesterday and we had a lovely talk. He’s coming back to Greenwich for the summer, so we’ll be seeing him.”
In honoring Gifford’s last day, Kotb reflected on why their show has worked so well, attributing its success to Gifford.
“Two shows have worked really well in the history of daytime television: Regis and Kathie Lee, and Kathie Lee and me,” she said. “So what is the common denominator between those two?!”
“You know what, though? After I left the show with Regis, that year he won the Emmy,” Gifford recalled with a laugh. “And I was hosting the Emmys then! How embarrassing is that? I walk out and I go, ‘Well, I guess I was the problem all these years!’ ”
Gifford announced in December that she would be leaving the network in the spring after 11 years in the role to pursue personal projects, including producing Christian music and films. Jenna Bush Hager, 37, will take over co-hosting duties for the NBC morning show’s fourth hour alongside Kotb.
“I thought I’d stay a year and here it is, 11 years later,” Gifford, who is moving to Nashville, recently told PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “And in those 11 years a lot of life has happened.”
“The work that I want to do isn’t here anymore,” she continued, gesturing around her dressing room at the show’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza studio. “I am an artist, I’m an actress, I’m a writer, I’m a songwriter, a director now. That’s the stuff that feeds my soul and I know that I’m running out of time to do those things.”
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